Mel’s movie madness

First, a confession: I don’t watch a lot of movies. When I do, it’s an occasion of some variety.

In the case of the first movie I’ll be discussing, Phil and I both had the day off, I was departing for Calgary the next day, and we decided to see it as a “date.” I’ll let you decide what kind of commentary that makes on my life.

I’ll see more movies during the spring and summer because we subscribe to the movie package with our cable so we can watch Game of Thrones.

You may not be surprised to learn that besides Guardians of the Galaxy, I’ve seen a sum total of three not-on-network-TV-yet movies.

Without further self-deprecation, here’s what I learned from these movies:

Guardians of the Galaxy

This movie, in keeping with Marvel’s other recent offerings, was enjoyable. It had no pretensions and knew exactly what it was and what it promised the audience. Further, it delivered on the promise. Always a good thing.

There was an appropriate amount of backstory and it left some healthy gaps for the audience to fill in on their own. I really appreciate it when a movie doesn’t spoon-feed.

I loved the Awesome Mix Vol. 1 and the purpose it served for Peter Quill, A.K.A Star Lord, and his story arc.

When we first see Peter as an adult, dancing to his music as he perpetrates a crime, we learn so much about him. It’s a brilliant bit of visual storytelling.

Similarly, when we meet Gamora and Rocket, and, even Groot, within a very short period of time, we know exactly whom we are dealing with.

Drax, however, was surprisingly one-dimensional. It’s not a great thing when a humanoid tree with a one-word vocabulary has more character than a walking, talking, red-skinned muscle man. ‘Nuff said.

The one thing I didn’t appreciate was how, though wonderful and capable, Gamora fades into the background to let the frankly bumbling Peter take centre stage.

Key writerly takeaways: How to craft backstory; Creating convincing characterization with minimal “screen time.”

Looking forward to a future Inhumans movie from Marvel.

Catching Fire

I watched this one on the way to Calgary courtesy of Air Canada.

Frankly, I was disappointed in this movie. I haven’t read the second in the series, but I have to assume that there’s more to Katniss’s story this time than a weary rehash of The Hunger Games.

Katniss seemed amazingly passive. I expected more.

It really didn’t grip me at all, and I actually struggled to remember what movie I had watched on the plane. That’s bad.

Key writerly takeaways: The second book in a series has to be at least as awesome as the first. Don’t let your reader down. To borrow a phrase from Brandon Sanderson and the Writing Excuses podcast, your protagonist must protag. That is, he or she must ACT.

Oz the Great and Powerful

I’d actually watched part of this on my way out to Vancouver last year for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (which I’m too poor to attend two years in a row).

I actually caught the whole movie on one of the movie channels a few weeks ago.

I thought it was an interesting take on the Wizard of Oz, but I have to say that this one was a little disappointing too.

Another bumbling, if not bordering on irredeemable, male character surrounded by powerful, dynamic women, all of whom he betrays in some fashion, and yet, he merits the title of great and powerful by the end.

I didn’t buy it and the monkey’s loyalty to Oscar made my ass twitch.

I’m sorry, but blind faith and blind luck just don’t propel a plot in a satisfying way. For me.

Key writerly takeaways: Redemption must be earned and it must ring true. Take extra care with the antihero.

Thor: The Dark World

This movie was okay for me. I enjoyed it, but I’m glad I didn’t pay to see it in a theatre.

The dark elves were physically interesting and I would have liked to see a little more development there, but unfortunately, I got a one-note villain.

While I found Thor to be the usually satisfying eye candy, I was far more interested in Loki. None of the characters received much further characterization or development, except for Selvig. I loved his insanity and his new penchant for nudity.

The biggest disappointment was the relationship between Thor and Jane. She’s supposed to be the love of his life, but he doesn’t even drop her a line when he helps the Avengers save New York.

And they never talk about it. Yes, she gives him a smack, but the implication is that the Bifrost was repaired even before the events of the Avengers movie.

I think playing the whole thing out on the screen would have bored viewers to death, but there has to be some kind of verisimilitude. People in relationships, if they are as committed as they claim, talk about these things.

Even some kind of cut scene where the two emerge from a hallway still arguing and one or the other says something particularly touching that does not drop the issue, but defers it until a more appropriate time. There is, after all, a war to fight and a multiverse to save.

And then there’s Jane herself. She’s brilliant, capable, and relegated to the role of the woman in jeopardy until she becomes empowered by gadget at the end.

Key writerly takeaways: If a secondary character becomes more compelling than your protagonist, you either have to make the secondary character your protagonist, or examine your protagonist’s arc to see how you can make it stronger. A token character of any kind is a bad thing. A good villain needs a motivation and a backstory to come alive.

And that’s what I learned watching movies.

Have you seen any movies recently from which you’ve gleaned some writerly goodness? Let me know in the comments below.

I’ll be deferring my Series Discoveries post until a little later in the television season. At the moment I have a total of three series to discuss, and for one of them, I’ve only seen one episode. Not much to work with.

Coming up: Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday as usual, and more WWC reportage on Saturday.

In the next couple of weeks, an author friend of mine will be coming to town for a couple of speaking engagements, and I might have more work-related posts coming up as I’m heading into training for the next two weeks as well.

By the end of the month, I might have an idea about the relative stability of my team, as well.

There have been gaggles of workers taking pictures of the rock in my front yard and they’ve moved a trailer into the empty lot across the street. Though they have until mid-November to do it, I might have some developments on the road construction saga to report as well.

Mel's Movie Madness